I grew up in a very small semi urban town called Garhwa in the state of Jharkhand in India. I come from a conservative middle class society where menstruation is still a taboo. As a child I remember, I would get curious about sanitary napkins while watching advertisements on TV. My mother would get embarrassed and try to avoid the subject. When I explicitly asked her about it, she told “you would know about it once you grow up”.
At the age of 11, I met with a serious accident and was totally bed ridden for months. My mother would fix a narrow pipe to my urinary tract to help me with urination. One day while fixing the pipe my mother saw some traces of blood in my vagina which was actually due to a minor cut received earlier while fixing the pipe. She thought I have started my periods and she told me about periods for the first time. She said that all girls and women get it. I was the youngest among my cousins and they had already started getting their periods. I realized why suddenly all my elder cousin sisters had started their private conversations and wouldn’t let me be a part of it.
First period and the burden of myths
I got my first period when I was 12 years old. I informed about it to my mother and she made me bathe with 2 and half mug of water. By doing so, she believed my flow would last only for 2 and half days. Nevertheless, I was a heavy bleeder like my mother and my flow would last for at least 7 days if not more. I started off with using old discarded cotton cloth folded in the shape of a pad to absorb the flow. I used to get debilitating cramps and my daily routine would go for a toss. Things became worse when restrictions arising from age old myths were thrust upon me during my periods. I wasn’t allowed to sit on other’s bed but just mine. I wasn’t allowed to touch the place of worship or anything holy in the house. I had to wash and dry my cloths separately. During periods I wasn’t allowed to eat or touch pickle as it was believed that they would get spoilt if I touched them. After my periods would get over, I had to wash the bed sheet whether it’s stained or not. In short, I was treated as impure or polluted and I was expected to have become “pure” only after the 7th day when I had taken a bath and washed my hair.
I was strictly told by my mother to not let my father or brothers get even a hint of my periods. Since menstrual blood is considered impure, I and mom used to store the used and washed cloth pads in a very dark, damp and not so clean corner of the bathroom. Even today I feel sorry for the 12 year old me. My parents are well educated and were financially well off. We could have easily afforded sanitary pads but the question was who would go to buy them and risk their and the family’s dignity. Back in 1992 and even today in many societies menstruation is an unspeakable curse.
I got my first period when I was in class 7th, and many of my friends did too. But the subject of menstruation was not introduced in our textbooks well until we were in class 9th. Our biology teacher was a male and he asked us to go through the chapter on our own and ask him in case we had any doubts about it. The teacher was quite friendly to us and obviously his skipping the chapter made the whole subject of menstruation and child-birth a taboo for us. We learnt to deny our own body, our own self right from the time we start growing up and then everything surrounding it, be it child molestation, rape, periods, pregnancy, intercourse, even touching and hugging becomes shameful and embarrassing.
All this while I only knew that period were important so that I can have a baby some day in future. Becoming a mother is a big deal and a very important aspect of women in our societies. Woman who can’t bear child are considered unfortunate, unlucky and have no respect within the family or in the society.
Due to lack of better education I took admission in a school in a different city away from my home. I had to stay in a hostel. There was only one bathroom for every 10 girls. Washing and drying cloth pads was not possible there. I saw my roommate using whisper napkin. She told that one can easily buy them at the medical stores. So I went to the medical shop and very shyly asked for the brand name, the shop keeper wrapped the packet with paper and then put it in a black poly bag and gave it to me. I was using sanitary napkins for the first time at the age of 15. It was so much dry, less messy and comfortable as compared to using cloth pieces as pads. Over the next 12 years I had tried, testing and using napkins of various brands and absorbencies.
During my post graduation days, I got into a relationship with one of my batch mates, Tuhin. Tuhin was an activity partner and we often worked on projects together. We are now happily married. Tuhin has only one sibling, a younger brother, so he never got a chance to know about periods beyond what’s taught in the biology textbooks in the schools. After knowing about the inconvenience that I went through every month, Tuhin started to search for more information on menstruation and different ways to manage it in the hope that he could be of some help during those days of the month. He told me many things that I myself did not know about periods. It occurred to us that if there are so many essential things about menstruation that’s unknown to me even after having periods for past several years and in spite of being well educated, there must be millions others who might be ignorant about menstrual management. So I took up a yearlong project on menstrual awareness. This research project had laid the grounds for Menstrupedia.
While working in Mumbai, I had joined swimming classes. I enjoyed swimming a lot and wondered how am I going to continue during my periods? That’s when I learnt about tampons and started using them but was always wary about TSS. Every time I used them I had to keep track of time to change them.
It was during late last year that I and Tuhin started our initiative Menstrupedia with the hope of sharing our knowledge and experiences about menstruation. While researching about the subject I came across menstrual cups many times but never felt a need to dig enough to know about them or maybe I was too comfortable and structured to try anything other than pad or tampon. While researching about various menstrual products, Tuhin found that the benefits of menstrual cup along with the overtly positive user testimonials made it definitely worth a try. So we bought a menstrual cup. Since then I have been using it without complaint. It has not only saved me money but also the trouble of buying fresh supply of pads or tampons every period and I don’t have to worry about waste disposal anymore and I would never like to go back to using pads and tampons anymore. That leaves me wondering, had I known about these different, better ways to manage periods, I wouldn’t have had to bear the agony of being a girl every month.
Aditi Gupta is the founder of Menstrupedia. She believes in spreading awareness about menstruation in a fun and entertaining manner. In her free time she blogs about crafts made from common household waste along with the DIY tutorials.